Published on: Jan 30, 2019, Last Edited: Jan 30, 2019
The first U.S. government shutdown of 2019 ended last week, however, President Donald Trump is considering declaring a state of national emergency if the Democrats fail to approve $5.7 billion for the completion a border wall with Mexico. The wall was a flagship of his election campaign but other less visible policies have already had an impact on immigrants wishing to reside the United States.
Right-wing groups such as FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform) are reflecting on what they see as remarkable progress over the last two years. In the last year alone, far-reaching reforms to immigration rules have seen a citizenship question added to the census (a move that is currently facing a legal challenge), 2,654 children separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border, and the number of refugees granted asylum at an all-time low of 30,000.
Other, less visible, changes have tightened up the rules on immigration, extending the time it takes to process a visa. There are also proposals that people receiving public benefits should not be eligible to apply for a green card. The President’s supporters see these changes as more important than the headline-grabbing wall. R J Hauman, of FAIR, expects the Trump White House to continue making changes that do not require the approval of the House. For example, the government is planning to revoke the rule that allows the spouses of those with temporary specialist work visas (H-1B) work permits to seek gainful employment in the States. If this ruling comes into force, it will mean that more than 100,000 people will no longer be able to work legally in the US, unless the courts intervene.
With the Democrats controlling the House since the mid-term elections, Trump’s options for restricting immigration now consist of changing administrative policies or using presidential executive orders to force changes through, as in November’s attempt to block asylum seekers crossing the border outside the official entry ports. Civil rights groups closely monitor any changes and in this instance, ACLU, the American Civil Liberties Union immediately filed a lawsuit against it, which was upheld in the Supreme Court last month.
The group is now bracing itself for a further two years of policies aimed at deterring immigrants, including various forms of family separation.
In what could turn out to be one of the most radical changes to the immigration system in years, the Trump administration will force many refugees to wait in Mexico for their asylum claim to be processed.
The new Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) will be introduced at San Diego’s San Ysidro crossing, one of the country’s busiest and the preferred port of entry for many of the caravan of Central American migrants who arrived in Tijuana state in November 2018.
Some migrants who have already crossed will be returned to Mexico by the US Department of Homeland Security while they wait for their asylum claims to be processed. The DHS announced that the Mexican government will, therefore, be providing humanitarian support during their wait. The numbers of migrants in Tijuana is already proving a severe strain on the country’s resources.
The government claims that there is a security and humanitarian crisis at the border and says that the MPP has been implemented to address issues such as drug smuggling and people trafficking. Amnesty International disputes this claim, saying that the vast majority of refugees are not criminals but ordinary people fleeing poverty, persecution and gang warfare.
The new policy will not apply to unaccompanied children or to asylum seekers from Mexico; it may soon be rolled out to other ports of entry. A legal challenge to the “Stay in Mexico” rules is expected soon. Meanwhile, the new rules are testing the relations between the populist presidents of the two countries.
USCIS, in consultation with the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) and the DOS (Department of State), has just announced changes to the list of countries that can take part in the H-2A and H-2B visa programmes for 2019.